Safeguards mechanism in regulator sights, in emissions reporting crackdown

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Clean Energy Regulator names Coalition’s Abbott-era safeguard mechanism as top compliance concern for coming year, in crackdown on emissions reporting by big polluters.

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The federal Coalition’s much derided emissions safeguard mechanism has been pinpointed as a key area of focus for Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator this year, in its latest annual update of compliance and enforcement priorities.

In a notice on Friday, the CER named the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Safeguard Mechanism – the Abbott-era policy that aims to set “baselines”, or limits, for big polluters – among its top concerns in the coming year.

The CER said its focus would be on participants with a history of repeated non-compliance with reporting obligations, particularly where the data underpinned safeguard baselines.

The key goal, it said, was to ensure “the consistency and accuracy of emissions and energy data to inform policy-making, the public and meet Australia’s international obligations.”

A lofty goal, to be sure, considering the weight of evidence suggests Australia is nowhere near meeting its international obligations on emissions reduction – to say nothing of its form on accurate reporting or informed policy-making.

Rather, as June data from The Australia Institute illustrates, Australia’s total emissions have been rising steadily over the past three years, and are likely to increase again, thanks largely to fossil fuel mining.

The report showed emissions up significantly across almost all energy-related sources – except for electricity generation – with emissions from transport up by 23 per cent, from stationary energy 30 per cent, and fugitive energy by “an astonishing” 55 per cent.

The latter figure serves to highlight the ineffectiveness of the government’s “safeguard mechanism”, the purpose of which was to limit emissions from big industry, but has instead – as Giles Parkinson explained here – given it carte blanche to keep on emitting.

The CER’s commitment to keep a watchful eye over compliance with the safeguards mechanism – which was relaxed even further this year by the Morrison government – doesn’t promise to make the policy any more effective.

But it does put big polluters on notice that they are being watched by someone – if not held to account – and their emissions tallied. And it serves as a reminder to the federal government that data matters, and should be used to inform policy.

“It’s good the CER is putting more effort into actually turning the safeguards into safeguards,” said TAI’s Richie Merzian in comments to RE on Friday.

“And it’s ironic that it’s happening once Chevron has finally commenced its CCS project at Gorgon, given it is one of the major emitters that’s likely to fall foul of breaching its baseline.”

As Michael Mazengarb reports here, Chevron Australia announced on Friday that it has begun the capture and storage of carbon dioxide at its mammoth Gorgon gas project.

This is, on the face of it, also positive news – although as Merzian points out, there is important context.

“Chevron is still in emission-reduction debt for the last three years of pollution — against legal requirements. This carbon debt is equivalent to the annual emissions of 12 Pacific island states combined,” he said on Friday.

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